Erratic revenue collection sends Fince department into a tizzy
By Our Staff Reporter
Guwahati, Aug 16: If the variation in the revenue collected as royalty by the Forest department is any indicator, a sand and gravel racket continues to thrive in the State in alleged collusion with government officials.
The money, that is supposed to reach the government exchequer, ends up in the pockets of some Forest department officials and employees in cahoots with contractors and the mafia.
In 2011-12, the Forest department collected Rs 5,474.52 lakh as royalty from sand and gravel mining. The revenue dropped to Rs 3,241.89 lakh in 2012-13 and again to Rs 2,711.96 lakh the following year. It increased to Rs 3,595.84 lakh in 2014-15. The inconsistent revenue collection has baffled even the Fince department, which, in a recent meeting, posed several queries to the Forest department.
"The Principle Secretary (Fince) advised the Forest department to take necessary measures to stop illegal extraction and transportation of such raw materials that is causing fall in revenue," the minutes of the meeting held on June 16 stated.
While allotting sand and gravel mahals - there are 338 in the State - the government fixes the quantity that the contractor is supposed to extract. Challans are issued against the fixed quantity.
However, sources said that miners do not use the challans and trade the extracted sand and gravel illegally. With a boom in construction activity, the demand for sand and gravel is sky-high while the regulatory consequences are minimal. "As they do not use challans, the miners extract unlimited amount of sand and gravel, much above what is fixed by the Forest department. The miners mage local Forest officials and personnel manning the Forest check-gates to ensure smooth transportation of the illegally mined sand and gravel," sources said.
In West Kamrup Forest division, personnel at the Forest check gates are paid Rs 200/300 by each truck carrying sand or gravel. The Kulsi sand mahal in the division was allotted to a miner two months back. The Forest department has fixed the extraction limit of sand at 186 cubic metres, but sources alleged that the miner had surpassed that limit long back.
The Divisiol Forest Officer is alleged to be in the know of things, turning a blind eye to the nexus due to reasons best known to him.
The royalty from the West Kamrup division has also been inconsistent. In 2011-12, it was Rs 291.07 lakh. The next year, it came down to Rs 68.79 lakh, and then to Rs 20.57 lakh in 2013-14. In 2014-15, the revenue increased to Rs 235.97 lakh, officials said. Similar aberrations in revenue collection has been reported from East Kamrup and other divisions as well.